I suppose I have to mention Michael Jackson’s death here. It seems to be every blogger’s obligation. Well, I won’t wax rhapsodic about his life; enough others are doing that and frankly, I just never felt that emotionally attached to him as a person or as a musician.
What I do recognize, and it’s only sinking in as time passes, is that his death as an icon, and as an influence on my generation, and especially on my personal memories formed at the culmination of my youth — when life feels like the sweetest agony and every emotion sticks with you like a tattoo for the rest of your life — is monumental. This is the moment in my own life that I’ve only heard about in others’. I personally never really cared about Elvis, either. His life ended before mine seriously began. His music is, to me, not much different from Tony Bennett’s or Bobby Vinton’s or Judy Garland’s: it’s music I hear on the oldies station. But there are those who were formed during the Elvis era, and so the death of Elvis is huge to them. Well, I was formed in the Michael Jackson era. His music is a huge portion of the soundtrack of my youth.
One good thing about living through this moment is that the MJ of recent years is being replaced by the MJ of his greatest years. CNN’s tribute picture is of an early 80’s Michael, when he was on top of the world and looking good. Videos are popping up of his early stardom, the birth of the “moonwalk”, Thriller, Beat It, Billie Jean. I watch them and travel back in time in my mind to where I was when those songs were top, and frankly those were some of the best years of my life. I enjoy the visit very much. I realize that those days are gone, and no matter if MJ had lived on for another forty years, those days would never come back. We are where we are.
I feel the worst for his kids. I honestly feel a little relieved for MJ that his agony is over: the debts, the lawsuits, his ultra-sensitivity that must have made life nearly unbearable at times. I have, when I spent time thinking about it, felt that I could identify somewhat with his crazy misguided innocence. I have honestly never really believed that he was guilty of pedophilia. Not saying it didn’t happen (or that it did) since I wasn’t there, but in a weird way I see an overgrown kid who just wanted to have a childhood, but whose body grew too old for his dreams at the same time that he was handed gobs of money to create a replica. Some people just don’t want to grow up. Money makes it possible to think you can actually create the impossible. And looking in on childhood from outside the window, it looks rosy and pink and possible to go back, although it is all illusion. Childhood is what you live through. LIFE is what you live through. It has nothing to do with what you perceive others have experienced, or more relevantly, what you suspect you’ve been left out of.
I’ve been there. Holidays look the same way to me. So does youth, in some ways. I think at some point you realize the cold hard truth that you are what you are, but if you’ve been in the public eye all your life, the damage is done. Maybe we’d like to ignore MJ’s death for all his faults and foibles, but I don’t think we can, for fear our insensitivity will result in our own death being ignored because of our own faults. The dead deserve respect. It’s the human way.
So anyway, he’s dead. Investigations will be held, perhaps scandals will arise. It will all be part of the ultimate narrative. “Narrative.” The word is inherently linear, active, forward-moving. This is where we are right now, writing the narrative of his death. Writing the narrative of our own lives through his death. Looking backward while moving forward. And this is the story we will tell to the next generation, who will listen with bright eyes and hollow ears, and who will never understand. Until it happens to them.